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  • Writer's pictureTim Murphy

The Blowing Rock

The Blowing Rock is a small park in western North Carolina that has entertained tourists for nearly ninety years, while its legend has been a Native American oral tradition for countless generations. Long ago, during a period of tense conflict between warring tribes, a Chickasaw chieftain sent his daughter to the Carolina Highlands to protect her from the violence in the plains. One day, while perched on a cliff, she spotted a lone Cherokee brave wandering the woods below. She flirtatiously shot an arrow in his direction and the two instantly fell in love.

While in the midst of their propinquity, an ominous red sky cast itself over the land, drawing the two young lovers back to the cliff on which they met. The Cherokee believed that the sky’s color signaled trouble at his home in the plains and beckoned his return, but the Chickasaw begged him not to leave. Torn between his love and his sense of duty to his tribe, the brave leapt off the ledge into the forest below.

Nature Trail passing under the Blowing Rock

The maiden was grief-stricken and prayed to the Great Spirit for his return. Day after day, she would visit the cliff, hoping for a miracle. One day, under another reddened sky, a strong gale blew across the precipice and lifted her lover back into her arms. From then on, a perpetual upward wind blows upon the rock, causing snow to fall upwards and lightweight objects (such as tissues) to float in midair. This wind phenomenon is what galvanized the name ‘The Blowing Rock.’

For a general admission fee of $7, visitors can access the Blowing Rock complex and navigate its 1,200-foot, self-guided Nature Trail, which takes around twenty minutes to complete. The first stop from the entrance gate is the gazebo, where tourists can read more about the Blowing Rock legend while enjoying a nice view into the Johns River Gorge Valley. Immediately to the left of the gazebo is the Blowing Rock. The Nature Trail passes under the rock’s outcroppings and loops around to the Observation Tower, which offers visitors some great views of Mount Mitchell and Grandfather Mountain. From the tower, continue back towards the Gorge View Annex building. Here visitors can find the Blowing Rock Photo Gallery which depicts a photographic history of the town of Blowing Rock and the evolution of tourism at its namesake. The trail finishes up at the waterfall and gardens.

It’s not often that I post negative reviews, but there were several significant problems I observed during my visit to the Blowing Rock. First, the site prides itself on being “North Carolina’s Oldest Tourist Attraction,” but they make this claim on a technicality. The gneiss rock formations at Blowing Rock are estimated to be 1.05 billion years old—the result of the collision between the North American and African continents. The high pressure and temperature caused by that tectonic event created these metamorphic rocks under the Earth’s surface, and only after 250 million years of erosion are they now visible.

The actual tourist destination itself was founded in 1933, when Grover C. Robbins—North Carolina’s “Father of Tourism”—persuaded the Bernhardt family (who privately owned the land) to lease the property to the state. Before Robbins’s acquisition, the site was a local dumping ground. It’s also interesting to point out that the Blowing Rock business was formed at the height of the Great Depression, when national tourism and the ‘American Road Trip’ were evolving ideas to stimulate local businesses and revitalize towns with increased foot traffic and revenue. Dozens of tourist attractions like the Blowing Rock were founded in North Carolina during this time.

Blowing Rock’s claim as the oldest tourist attraction is incredibly misleading as it describes the rocks, not the business itself. There are plenty of other attractions in North Carolina whose businesses are much older—such as Chimney Rock, which was founded in July 1916 as Hickory Nut Gorge Park.

View from the Observation Tower

Another issue I have with the Blowing Rock is its wind phenomenon. “Lightweight” objects are supposed to float back up to you if thrown over the edge and Ripley’s Believe It or Not claims it to be “the only place where snow falls upside-down.” Well, don’t believe it. The upward winds are naturally-occurring phenomena on any steep hillside or mountainous slope. By nature of convection currents, warm air rises due to its reduced density and creates an upslope flow called anabatic wind. That’s why if you scale a high peak, even on a calm day, you’ll still feel a breeze on exposed surfaces. Now, due to the funneling effect of the Johns River Gorge Valley, this phenomenon may be accentuated at the Blowing Rock, but it is by no means unique.

Additionally, the word “lightweight” is used in a very broad and nondescript sense. Feathers, tissue paper, and materials of similar density may successfully experience the uplifting winds, but objects heavier than those described will typically plummet to the ground (don’t try this with dollar bills).

The Blowing Rock is the definition of a tourist trap. The business profiteers off of Native American folklore with their exorbitantly overpriced entrance fees while simultaneously over-exaggerating the site’s history and natural features. The park is overcrowded (somehow), especially around the rock, which detracts from the scenic splendor its view offers. In addition, the rock’s appearance has been altered so greatly by the tourism industry that it has lost its natural characteristics. I hesitate to include this destination as a ‘Trail Trial,’ but I wanted to quantify how abysmal my experience here was. Save your money and visit some of the other tourist destinations in the area. The Blowing Rock is nothing more than a lackluster “attraction” that leaves much to be desired. Trail Rating: 1/10

Visit the Blowing Rock Homepage and Only In Your State for more information on the site.

Read this HCPress article about how Grover C. Robbins made the Blowing Rock what it is today.

Check out this Insider article about tourist traps in every state (guess which one is listed for North Carolina?)


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